Folklore Superstitions – Are Gloucestershire People Very Superstitious? 

This information comes from an article in the Cheltenham Chronicle, 1936 and was written by F.W Keep.

Which is the most superstitious county in England? Staffordshire has been said to have been the most likely to believe in luck but F.W Keep states that investigations that he made, convinces him that Gloucestershire runs a close second to Staffordshire. During his investigations, he came across village doctors in Gloucestershire had or were using old methods in which to treat patients; examples being spider webs being used for cuts, manure for gunshot wounds and the ashes of a roasted mouse were given in a bowl of porridge for a boy who lacked self-control.

In previous decades, rheumatism were given superstitious cures to suffers in Gloucestershire. The cure of a potato being carried in a pocket for many days was still being prescribed in 1936 in the Berkley Vale but the practise of asking the local vicar for drops of the oil from the church bell no longer happens. The wise woman of a village would prescribe wearing Moleskin on the chest for asthma sufferers. Again, this was no longer happening.

Frogs were prominently associated with healing properties. Frogs and Toads were frequently roasted or boiled to be used for a wide range of ailments, such as quinsy (tonsillitis) or palsy (types of paralysis). A boiled frog’s leg, seasoned with a pinch of black pepper, then eaten, was said to stop heart palpitations. One man from near Dursley, said he ate 2 boiled frogs legs a week as he had suffered badly with palpitations since a youth but had no symptoms since eating his twice weekly boiled frog’s legs. If you were suffering with toothache, you just had to find a frog, pop it into your mouth so that the pain you were experiencing would, somehow, be transferred to the frog and you’d be toothache free. I couldn’t find how long you had to keep the frog in your mouth though!

For getting rid of a cough, you would take a hair from your head, place it between 2 slices of buttered bread and then feed it to a dog. This would, it was believed, take the cough from the human and give it to the dog! With getting rid of warts, the cures included, rubbing the wart with bacon then place the bacon into the trunk of an Ash tree to opening a broad bean, rubbing the wart on the pith then burying it in the ground. Both these cures were said to rid someone of their warts, as when the bacon or the broad bean started to decay, so did the wart.

There were many superstitions related to animals and birds and the author stated that there were far too many to include but included the following; if a dog howled or a rooster crowed at night, it was a sign of death. If a strange black cat entered a house then one of the occupants would have an episode of good financial luck. There was also a West Country rhyme about Magpie’s-

One, sign of anger

Two, sign of mirth

Three, sign of a wedding day

Four, sign of death

Five, sign of sorrow

Six, sign of joy

Seven, sign of maid

Eight, sign of boy

Ravens hovering near a house must be scared away as if one raven were to fly over the roof of a house, it would signify a death. If someone were to kill a Robin or steal its eggs, then it would mean that on the Day of Judgement, the person who did either of those actions, would find themselves without their left arm. To see a Robin then hear its twitter by your house, a death would happen before the following Christmas Day. 

The moon also played a large part of superstition in Gloucestershire. Farmers wouldn’t kill pigs whilst there was a waning moon as doing this would invite the attention of witches and the meat would turn bad. You would avoid looking at a New Moon through glass as this would bring bad luck but when it was a new moon, it would be good to turn over your coins as this would bring more coins your way. There was a practise of slitting the cartilages of children’s ears on a waxing moon if the child was having difficulties with learning or studying.